The head chef of The Cross at Kenilworth, Adam Bennett on chequered school days, his wife’s ‘fantastic’ Indian food…and the thrill of winning a Michelin star!
Tell us about your cooking
My philosophy is to keep it simple and focus on flavour. I’ve accumulated great techniques over the years, so I find ways to use those in a simple, unfussy way. I focus on the best possible produce and make it sing.
Describe your perfect meal
It depends on my mood. Fish and chips hits the spot as well as anything sometimes, but I’ll go for scallops followed by pigeon and a chocolate tart in the south of France with my wife.
How did you become a chef?
I had a chequered school history let’s put it that way, but I’d always been interested in food. When I left and began studying food at Henley College in Coventry everything made sense. I applied myself like I never had at school and I knew immediately it was what I wanted to do.
What do you eat at home?
My wife grew up in India and cooks fantastic Indian food. She does it so well that she’s spoilt Indian restaurants for me because she does it better – apart from Aktar [Aktar Islam of Lasan] of course!
Best chef in the world? Best in Brum?
A great chef is not only one who’s been cooking at the highest level, but one that leaves a legacy too. So, who’s inspiring young kids and the future of cooking? For me, it’s Alain Ducasse. He and his books had a big influence on me. I can’t possibly answer the best in Brum – I’ll lose friends over that! I’ll give you a name to watch though… Brad Carter at Carter’s in Moseley is doing great things.
Is the customer always right?
When the customer is sat in the restaurant they’re allowed to be right even when they’re wrong!
What’s the best thing about being a chef?
As well as turning raw ingredients into something fantastic, it has to be the buzz of a busy service when everything’s ticking along like a Swiss clock and the team is working well. We were absolutely delighted to have won a Michelin star at The Cross. We honestly didn’t expect anything so soon after opening and it’s a huge pat on the back for the whole team.
What’s the worst thing about being a chef?
Missing out on family things.
If you weren’t a chef what would you be?
I’d still be involved in food in some way – a market gardener maybe. I like growing things. Or a baker. I love baking bread.
What do you recommend from this evening’s menu?
I’d go for the mussel soup which has a nice curry flavour followed by pigeon with roasted roots, bacon terrine and a white pepper sauce.
ADAM’S RECIPE FOR: BRAISED OX CHEEK, ROOT VEGETABLES & MASH
- 4 ox cheeks, trimmed
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 50ml vegetable oil
- 200g carrots, chopped
- 200g celery, chopped
- 100g onion, chopped
- Half of garlic, cut in half horizontally
- 350ml of red wine
- 1.5ltrs of beef stock
- 4 sprigs of thyme
- 4 bay leaves
- 150ml Madeira
- 100g passata
- 15g dried ceps
- Carrot and parsnip
- For the mash: 1kg of Maris Piper or Yukon gold potatoes 150ml of hot milk 150ml hot cream 250g diced butter, at room temperature
Season the ox cheeks with salt and black pepper, cover and leave in the fridge for 24 hours. Pre-heat oven to 160˚C. Heat a heavy frying pan on a high heat, add vegetable oil and sear the ox cheeks on all sides to colour. Place them into a stone casserole dish. In the sear pan, gently fry chopped vegetables and garlic until lightly caramalised. Add vegetables into the dish with ox cheeks, add wine and Madeira, cook over a medium heat until the liquid volume has reduced by half. Add passata and beef stock, bring to the boil, skimming for any muck. Add thyme, bay leaves, ceps, simmer for 15 mins. Cover with foil and a lid, put in the oven for 2 to 2.5 hours until the ox cheeks are tender and soft. Remove from oven, cover the cheeks with foil to keep warm. Strain cooking liquid through a sieve into a medium pan and reduce to a preferred consistency. For the mash, cut potatoes into an even size and place in pot of cold water. Add big pinch of salt, bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes or until tender. Drain well, return to a pan, dry fry over a low heat stirring for a few minutes. While still hot, mash the potatoes adding milk, cream and butter.